Tony brings up a point many parishioners might offer. People in a ministry of discernment (and lots of others, for their own respective fields) might hear:
“My question is what qualifies you to supernaturally determine what gifts God has given me? What if I said that I don’t think you have a gift for helping people discern their gifts? What if I said your gifts might probably lie elsewhere?”
First, it is the individual’s responsibility to be open to God in life–prayer life, certainly, but also in one’s life in the parish and in the world. If the challenge is rooted in prayer as opposed to one’s affective sensibility, then the question is possibly valid. That said …
It is the pastor’s responsibility to oversee the discernment process. That might mean actual spiritual direction or discernment for the pastor with others. Or it might mean delegating that responsibility to others more skilled. In either case, we’re operating from a standpoint of trust. Do parishioners trust their pastor? Do they trust his judgment when he delegates?
It is also important that the gifts God bestows are not intended as a target source on the individual. Spiritual gifts are meant for the benefit of others. As a musician, when I play to have fun, I’m not necessarily exercising a spiritual gift. When I play in church, the intention is to facilitate the singing and prayer of others. The “gift” is not “for me.” When people speak of their gifts as they would their talents or possessions, as a personal quality, one of two things might be in play. Perhaps they lack the vocabulary to express the reality of giftedness and the gifted person is authentically serving others. Or perhaps this is narcissism. How can one find out? Probably only through the medium of trusting another person, asking, and then listening for the answer.
Attacking the messenger is a sign of avoidance. The persons themselves feel threatened, so the human reaction is to threaten in turn. “I don’t think you’re orthodox.” “I think you’re a syncretist.” “Who gives you the right?”
Again, one of two things might be going on. It is possible the person is in fact, gifted, and has discerned well, but has never had their giftedness adequately reinforced in the parish. In other words, the person lacks appropriate self-esteem. Or the person might not be called, and deep down, they realize a long arduous process might be ahead to explore their real gifts and their community’s unmet needs as they set aside an activity they’ve been doing more for themselves.
Ultimately, the discerners will be known by their fruits. If your parish is thinking about bringing in consultants for any reason, examine the fruits. Ask for several references, and possibly, ask point-blank for them to recommend someone who might not have thought 100% of their service.
It boils down to trust. Is there not anyone whom you would trust with your gifts? If not, can you really be sure you’re embedded in an exercise that is of God?